Week Ending March 6, 2015
Department of Homeland Security Finally Funded Through End of Fiscal Year
After having to operate for five months under a series of short-term, unpredictable funding measures, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) finally received congressional funding for the rest of the current fiscal year. Up until this week, DHS funding was held hostage to the most conservative members of the House GOP caucus who refused to fund the Department unless anti-immigrant provisions were included in the funding bill. House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) finally broke free from these extreme members of his caucus and put a “clean” funding bill (H.R. 240), already passed by the Senate, on the House floor. It passed by a vote of 257-167, with 75 Republicans and 182 Democrats voting in favor. AFSCME members and their families will benefit, along with all other Americans, from DHS funding stability, as well as from President Obama’s immigration executive actions moving forward. These actions will expand the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program and establish a Deferred Action for Parental Accountability (DAPA) program. Together, they will allow up to five million unauthorized immigrants to work legally and no longer be subject to deportation.
AFSCME Member Testifies Before House Committee on NLRB Rules While Senate Votes to Overturn Them
On Wednesday, AFSCME member and California registered nurse Brenda Crawford testified before the House Committee on Education and the Workforce Subcommittee on Health, Employment, Labor and Pensions in opposition to a resolution that would nullify the National Labor Relations Board’s (NLRB) new union election rules (H.J. Res 29). The rules attempt to modernize the Board’s private sector election procedures, reduce unnecessary litigation and delay in the election process, and enable the election process to run more smoothly and predictably, to the benefit of employers, workers, and unions.
In her testimony, Sister Crawford discussed the difficulty she encountered in trying to form a union at the Universal Health System, where she has worked for 21 years. She testified that the company was able to manipulate the election procedure to delay the election date, using this time to send anti-union emails and texts to employees as well as hold meetings during work hours which took her and her colleagues away from patient care. Unfortunately, due to her company’s aggressive anti-union campaign, her efforts to form a union failed. Crawford also noted that the NLRB’s new election rules were modest but necessary changes to ensure union elections are free and fair for workers.
Crawford also testified last year in front of the NLRB in support of the new election rules. She is a member of an AFSCME affiliate, United Nurses Associations of California/Union of Health Care Professionals (UNAC/UHCP). For more information about Crawford’s testimony, please go to:
On the other side of the Capitol, the Senate voted this week to strike down the NLRB election rules in a largely party-line vote of 53-46. The GOP leadership employed the seldom-used Congressional Review Act to strike down the election rules, which just requires a simple majority vote. Even if the full House passes the bill, President Obama is expected to veto the legislation.
Delay in Introduction of Fast Track Trade Legislation
Senate Finance Committee Chair Orrin Hatch (R-UT) announced this week that Trade Promotion Authority, or fast track, legislation would likely not be introduced until April. The White House had previously pressed Senate and House leaders to approve a fast track bill by the end of March. The good news is that the delay suggests that Republican congressional leaders and the White House do not yet have enough votes to approve fast track legislation. However, President Obama is working very hard to win over skeptical Democrats.
Fast track legislation would prohibit Congress from amending the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement (TPP), a trade agreement that is being negotiated between the U.S. and a dozen other Pacific Rim countries which, together, comprise 40% of the world economy. There is substantial opposition to fast track and the TPP from labor unions and other groups because previous trade agreements have advanced corporate interests, but have led to a massive loss of jobs and caused wages to stagnate. Moreover, fast track and TPP would weaken a range of protections including environmental rules, food safety standards, and financial regulations and would even increase the pressure to privatize public services. For more information about fast track and the TPP, please go to this link to read an AFSCME blog and see a video by former Labor Secretary Robert Reich: http://www.afscme.org/blog/stop-fast-track-in-its-tracks.
U.S. Supreme Court Hears Case Over Affordable Care Act (ACA)
On Wednesday, the U.S. Supreme Court listened to oral arguments in the King v. Burwell case, which challenges tax credits (subsidies) for many of those signing up for health insurance in ACA health care exchanges. The proponents of this challenge argue that the ACA only provides tax credits for those who sign up for health coverage through a state operated exchange and are not available to those who sign up for health coverage through a federal exchange. Many states chose not to establish state exchanges after the ACA was enacted. As provided by the law, the federal government stepped in to set up exchanges where states failed to do so – in about two-thirds of all states. A full reading of the law makes clear that tax credits to help pay for coverage were to be available to all, regardless of which exchange was available in their state. If the Court were to rule in favor of the challengers, it would cause millions of low- and moderate-income families to lose their health care subsidies. The Court is not expected to issue a ruling until June.
House Committee Passes Harmful Immigration Bill
This week, The Legal Workforce Act (H.R. 1147), sponsored by Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX), passed out of the House Judiciary Committee by a partisan vote of 20 to 13. This bill would expand the existing, voluntary E-Verify program, a computer-driven system used by employers to determine their employees’ employment authorization under immigration law. It would require all public employees (not just new hires) to be subject to E-Verify within six months of the law’s enactment, and it expands the reach of E-Verify to unions, hiring halls and day labor centers. H.R. 1147 would make E-Verify mandatory too quickly, leading inevitably to employer mistakes and database errors. It would wrongly identify U.S. citizens and other work-authorized individuals who would lose employment opportunities and wages while attempting to correct mistakes in the E-Verify system. This bill also fails to include strong due process and anti-discrimination protections.
Instead of taking a comprehensive approach to reforming our country’s broken immigration system as the Senate did in 2013, the House GOP leadership is putting forward piecemeal bills that are harmful to U.S. citizens, legal permanent residents and other immigrants, and that fail to offer any path to citizenship for the 11 million people who continue to live in the shadows and work in the exploitative, unregulated, underground economy. The failure to pass comprehensive immigration reform not only harms these workers and their families but all workers and our economy as a whole.
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